Spinning Softwood News

The rhetoric about the ongoing softwood dispute is taking on a life of its ownin the buildup to a federal election.

Mr. Martin is talking tough to buttress his image as a tough guyon trade.  But simultaneously a Bush appointee seekingSenate confirmation to aCommerce Department position is talking equally tough. With aggressive rhetoric from both sides, nothing will happen and the stalemate will continue.

The lesson? Neither Paul Martin, the provincial premiers, nor George Bush are willing to spend the political capital to address the fundamental issues and jump start negotiations.

As the on-going non-story continues to not unfold, I aminterested by how the media frames the issues-or should I how the media regurgitates what Canadian officialsand industry representatives say without independent analysis.

Thursday’s Globe and Mail editorial tells the same clichd andone-sided story-Canadais winning, the U.S.is a bully, what do we poor Canadians do.

Ironically, on the facing page was a much more nuancedOp-ed that makes two important points that are usually lacking in Canadianarticles on the softwood lumber:

The op-ed, We must swallow hard on softwood, by Tim Armstrong,a former trade official, acknowledges a point that has been completelylacking form Canadian pundits’ analysis, He states, “It has now been establishedthat the stumpage programs do constitute a form of subsidization.

The shock of the skeleton in Canada’s forest policy closet being stated so clearly by a mainstream pundit almost dropped me to drop my breakfast plate when I read it in print.

Although Dogwood Initiative, and our other partners in the Coalition forSustainable Forest Solutions, have been saying BC and Canada subsidize logging for years, reporters havecontinually ignored the clear affirmation of this point in almost all the recent NAFTA and WTOrulings.

The second obvious, but under reported, insight that Mr. Armstrongdiscusses is the importance of negotiations. Anyone with a modicum of knowledgeabout trade issues knows that the only way to resolve the ongoing softwood disputeis through negotiation, not litigation.

Why? Although it is not mentioned in the article, because inthe unlikely event that Canada was able to win the current NAFTA and WTO paneldisputes and somehow convince the U.S. to return the $5 billion in tariffs, the U.S.could just turn around a file another challenge for a different period of time,begin charging a new tariff and the whole process would begin again.

A negotiated deal, or real policy reforms in Canadathat ensure the true price (stumpage) of wood from public lands is collected bythe Crown, are the only way to end the dispute.

I firmly believe policy reforms are the best option for BC.

  • Policy reform where BC and otherprovinces are forced to get rid of subsidies for unsustainable road and logging practices.
  • Reforms that would ensure the public gets fullvalue for trees cut on public lands.
  • Reforms that raise minimum stumpage wellabove the 25 cents/cubic meter BC charges for over 36% of wood cut in the province.
  • Reforms that create regional log markets where operators of all sizes can selland buy logs.  

Unfortunately, because politicians on both sides of the border  lack the political will, neither real reforms, nor negotiations appearlikely in the near future.

It is our job to change our elected representives political will. Lets do it.

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